Fuze case review – powered by Raspberry Pi (and quite a lot of money)
Can an add-on which channels the heyday of the BBC Micro be just what the Raspberry Pi needs to succeed in schools? Gareth Halfacree finds out…
Price: from £69.99 – £179.99
Operating system: Customised Raspbian with Fuze BasicProcessing
Hardware: Raspberry Pi Model B (also available with Maximite microcontroller)
Dimensions: 330mm x 240mm x 73mm
Weight: 1653g (excluding PSU)
Expansion: 1x Protected GPIO break-out board, bundled mini-breadboard
Keyboard: Integrated 88-key island-style
Ports: 10/100 Ethernet. 1x USB, SD, Power, 3.5mm Audio Out, HDMI
Extras: Mouse-Mat, Wireless Mouse, Reference Manual, PDF Project Cards, Electronic Kit with
Flexible Jumpers, Fixed Jumpers, Red, Green,
Blue LEDs, Eight-Segment LED,
Piezo Buzzer, Momentary Switches, Batteries
The brainchild of Jon Silvera, the Fuze Powered by Raspberry Pi is styled after the microcomputers of the 1980s – in particular the Acorn BBC Micro, which directly led to the development of the ARM instruction set that powers the modern Pi. A hefty chunk of metal, the Fuze encases the Pi while providing access to the majority of its ports: Ethernet, audio, HDMI, a single USB port and access to the SD card slot and micro-USB power connector are all provided at the rear, but sadly the composite video, DSI and CSI connectors aren’t broken out – meaning those who want to make use of these features will need to modify the case themselves.
The Fuze is more than a case, however. The unit includes an integrated 88-key island-style keyboard, which connects to one of the two USB ports of the bundled Raspberry Pi Model B. A recessed tray at the top also holds a GPIO break-out board and room to attach a bundled mini-breadboard for easy wiring, When bought in its full bundle form, the Fuze even includes a wireless mouse and branded mouse-mat – meaning the buyer need only provide an HDMI display in order to get started.
An SD card included in the kit goes still further to evoke feelings of nostalgia for the microcomputer boom of the 80s. Pre-flashed with a customised Raspbian install, the SD card includes a programming language called Fuze Basic which – like BBC Basic of old – sits the user at a black screen with a white, flashing cursor. Unlike classic Basic interpreters, however, Fuze Basic includes a handy integrated text editor for creating more complex programs without the pain of line-by-line editing.
All the old classics – 10 Print “Hello”, 20 Goto 10 – work fine, but Fuze Basic has a trick up its sleeve: direct access to the Pi’s GPIO header. Using a syntax borrowed wholesale from the Arduino project, users can quickly write programs to read or write data to the GPIO pins.
Sadly, making use of Fuze Basic can be awkward: the bundled manual is a mere reference guide to the commands available, although a full user guide is in the works and will be provided as a free download, and while PDF project cards – written with secondary school pupils in mind – provide a much more friendly introduction to using the language only four of a planned 16 were finished at the time of writing.
These are minor points, however: the Fuze is a work in progress, and its creator has promised to both revise the existing cards and to publish the remaining cards for free download as quickly as possible, which will go some way to improving the usability of the Fuze.
The biggest problem with the Fuze is one of price: while the Pi itself costs just £30, it is often bought in starter kits costing around £80 which include all required accessories bar the monitor. The Fuze, meanwhile, costs a whopping £179.99 – and while schools will be able to deduct the VAT and negotiate educational discounts, that’s a premium that may put it out of reach of home buyers. Savings are possible, however: the kit can be purchased without the bundled Pi at £129.99, or as a bundle of just case, PSU and breadboard for £89.99. The cheapest option, meanwhile, is to buy the case alone for £69.99.
The biggest defence of the pricing, however, is in Silvera’s commitment to local manufacturing: like the Pi, which is produced in Wales, the Fuze is a UK product through and through with only the keyboard and mouse coming from further afield.
The Fuze is undeniably expensive for anyone who can’t claim the VAT back and there is still considerable work to be done on the project cards, but it’s clear that a Fuze-encased Pi is far better suited to education than the bare device alone. The chassis is solidly constructed, the software smart and the GPIO break-out provides much-needed protection against shorts.
You can find more of Linux User’s Raspberry Pi coverage here.